One of the claims I intend to challenge today represents a fairly common theme one finds throughout the biblical record — the problem of the angry god. The angry god represents an anthropomorphic fiction — a way of assigning to God what only belongs to the realm of the human — as when the Greek goddess “discord” rolls an apple under the table at the Olympian, corporate board meeting, and forces Mt. Olympus, Inc. to guide down.
In the biblical record, God becomes angry with people when they fail to meet their (covenant) ethical obligations, especially in regard to matters of liturgy. One poor guy in Numbers 15 gets the Big One for gathering sticks on Saturday. The sons of Eli abuse the sacrifices and they get same final treatment.
By way of contrast, I wish to suggest a far more rational approach to understanding what God is like — the light of nature. Since we understand from the vast degree, and from the different kinds of wisdom displayed in nature, that God is all-wise, and that wisdom need patience, we can know that God never becomes impatient, and is never in a hurry, to accomplish anything. No historical actor ever “surprises” God, but the actions of each person are fully anticipated in advance, so that “solving the problem” created by unethical, human behavior — of whatever kind — is for God a very simple matter. It is, as we say in stock-market economics, already priced in (to our bad choices).
Thus, God cannot be frustrated, angered, or surprised. He simply dispassionately gives the reflexive judgment due to the course of action taken (punishes after the same fashion and degree of the transgression or else the failure to perform), and that judgment imposed serves as the corrective measure, together with the providential adjustments he makes throughout the world, to compensate for whatever is lost by the action of inactions imposed amiss by us.
Besides God possessing all wisdom (and “a patient man has great understanding”), a second reason exists that excludes divine anger. God is completely blessed and happy in the nature of his “life-situation” and divine nature. Anger brings psychological pain, and is sometimes extremely unpleasant (especially if you’re on the receiving end of a divine beating). No one wants anger, grief, confusion, or hatred.
Anger arises within one’s spirit because others violate our expectations or mores — do what we don’t want, or fail to do what we believe they are obligated to do. But this is a human response to “sin,” not a divine one. God cannot be injured by our failures; He is impassible, and knows that His purposes will never be thwarted. So He cannot be frustrated. He always wins no matter what (is sovereign), and has an infinite amount of time to accomplish his goals (is eternal).
We can also point to the fact that nature shows us a God who is infinitely good, and with his total wisdom, this makes it impossible for him to be even tempted by anger. Our “sin” simply does not, nor can it, affect God any way at all. All our errors are anticipated and resolved in principle by Him prior to their occurrence. The absence of divine anger from our universe has several important logical implicates, meaning, since God never grows angry, it also follows that —
- There is no such thing as “divine wrath” — though there is such a thing as divine justice — justice without wrath means that God is simply carrying out His business as a good Father and Judge would, without undue, emotional investment, when He imposes the appropriate sanctions.
- There is no such thing as Hell.
- There is no such thing as some apocalypse in the future. Progress of all kinds awaits us, and greater blessings still, with the advance of our (scientific, technological and logical-critical) understanding, rather than some fearful and great, divine hammer.
- God never imposes curses — except as a like kind of judgment against those who do this.
Except by way of lex talionis, against those who impose a curse against others, God never imposes any curse, and certainly not decree some sort of a “general” (or universal) curse as the punishment of some supposed “Fall of everyone.” God’s justice is time-limited and not universal, but aimed at those who commit particular transgressions, and only until they are paid for. Hell would be more than double jeopardy for any sin, and the punishment would not fit the limited crime.
The lame Christian rejoinder that a sin against an eternal being deserves an eternal punishment (which is false, since this would make all crimes worthy of equal severity of punishment) is taught nowhere in the Pentateuch. Here, different crimes befit different punishments, not “the same, eternal punish-ment.” And the maximum penalty there is physical death — for any and every heinous, or extremely damaging crime. This refutes the idea of hell from the Christian standard itself.
Finally, we should note that God is an IDEAL Being in every way. But anger, grief and the like are less than ideal, and thus do not belong to the experience of an Ideal Being. And since God is omni-competent (infallible in every way), there is simply no reason or plausible moving cause that could actually make Him angry. He would simply anticipate and manage any “problem” that might arise with ease, all confidence and superior skill so as to make the “problem” nothing of the kind.
Is anything to hard for the Lord? He simply does not, and cannot, have any real “problems.” He would merely transcend them with supreme wisdom and finesse. God, therefore, never becomes angry, and never will. But He does know what we call “happiness,” and has tied our happiness to His own. If we understood what great things this implies for us in the future, and dwelt upon it often, we would never stop smiling.